Shades of the Fourth Re­pub­lic:

What threats face Ukraine if a frag­mented Verkhovna Rada is elected that does not rep­re­sent the in­ter­ests of the ma­jor­ity of Ukraini­ans?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Olek­sandr Kra­mar

What threats face Ukraine if a frag­mented Verkhovna Rada is elected?

The lat­est polls of Ukraini­ans are show­ing an un­usu­ally large frag­men­ta­tion of voter pref­er­ences while also main­tain­ing enor­mous pent-up de­mand for new po­lit­i­cal par­ties. All this is sig­nal­ing more and more dis­tinctly that the coun­try could find it­self fac­ing a ma­jor cri­sis that will threaten Ukraine’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem af­ter the next round of elec­tions. If the cur­rent trend to­wards po­lit­i­cal frag­men­ta­tion con­tin­ues, and the elec­toral sys­tem and the par­lia­men­tary-pres­i­den­tial model of gov­ern­ment re­main un­changed, the in­com­ing leg­is­la­ture could face a pe­riod of desta­bi­liza­tion the likes of which would be hard to find in the his­tory of the new Ukraine.


A num­ber of polls run just be­fore the New Year’s and Christ­mas hol­i­days showed that the more new po­lit­i­cal projects ap­pear on the hori­zon, the more dif­fuse and scat­tered voter pref­er­ences are be­com­ing. Clearly, Ukrainian vot­ers want to see new faces and new ideas in pol­i­tics. These new politi­cians are busy try­ing to get those in the un­de­cided camp to their side and to nib­ble away those who have sup­ported the grey­beards of Ukrainian pol­i­tics as well.

The Ilko Kucheriv Demo­cratic Ini­tia­tives Fund (DIF) and the Razumkov Cen­ter both pub­lished the re­sults of sur­veys from De­cem­ber 15-19, 2017, show­ing that in the pro­por­tional part of the can­di­date lists as many as seven par­ties have a chance of gain­ing seats in the next Verkhovna Rada—but each of them with only 6-12% of the vote: Ty­moshenko’s Batkivshchyna, Poroshenko’s Sol­i­dar­nist, Mu­rayev-Rabi­novych’s Za Zhyt­tia, Hryt­senko’s Civic Po­si­tion, Sadoviy’s Samopomich, Boyko’s Op­po­si­tion Bloc, and Li­ashko’s Rad­i­cal Party. Al­to­gether, only 55% of those who in­tend to vote ac­tu­ally sup­port them, and that’s far less than half of Ukrainian vot­ers.

Many of the cur­rent par­ties that have al­ready sig­naled their in­ten­tion to cam­paign in that elec­tion are not even close to gain­ing enough votes to pass the thresh­old, but so far none of them have in­di­cated any real will­ing­ness to co­a­lesce into a po­lit­i­cal bloc with oth­ers. This is es­pe­cially true of the na­tion­al­ist camp: right now, only 3.2% of Ukraini­ans are pre­pared to vote for Svo­boda, while the re­main­ing par­ties aim­ing for that same group of vot­ers—Yarosh’s DIA [Ac­tion], Bilet­skiy’s Na­tional Front, and Praviy Sek­tor [Right Sec­tor]—to­gether barely get an­other 1.8% of vot­ers.

New op­po­si­tion par­ties such Saakashvili’s Move­ment of New Forces, Dmytro Do­brodomov’s Nar­o­d­niy Kon­trol [Con­trol by the Peo­ple], Vik­tor Chu­mak’s Khvyli [Waves] and the Demo­cratic Al­liance al­to­gether muster only 3.9% of vot­ers. Last but not least, the dog-eared Agrar­ian Party of Ukraine has 1.5% sup­port, while Ser­hiy Kaplin’s pop­ulist Party of Or­di­nary Folks has an­other 1.2%.

Opin­ion polls typ­i­cally re­port not only a large con­tin­gent of un­de­cided vot­ers, but, what’s more im­por­tant, enor­mous pent-up de­mand for new lead­ers: 67% of Ukraini­ans think their coun­try needs new po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, and only 19% be­lieve that it al­ready has them. This cre­ates a huge field for new faces and new par­ties to ma­neu­ver in.

In fact, just about any new party has a good chance right now. The ques­tion is, where will the po­ten­tial new lead­ers come from? Right now, polls show that vot­ers are most in­clined to trust or trust com­pletely the mil­i­tary 63.4%, vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions 61.3%, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions 44.0%, and anti-cor­rup­tion agen­cies, es­pe­cially NABU, 35.1%. What’s more, com­plete trust in the vol­un­teers and the mil­i­tary is over 10.0%.

The most sup­port for in­di­vid­u­als has gone to stars of show busi­ness whose names have been bandied around more ac­tively in the press re­cently: mu­si­cian Svi­atoslav Vakarchuk, who en­joys 8.9% com­plete trust while an­other 37.8% are in­clined to trust him, and co­me­dian Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, who en­joys 6.4% and 34.7% of voter trust. Amaz­ingly, Ze­len­skiy’s party, Ser­vant of the Peo­ple, has man­aged to pick up 4.0% sup­port among those who in­tend to vote—in less than a month since be­ing founded. Vi­taliy Kl­itschko’s UDAR party ben­e­fited from the same enor­mous de­mand for new faces in the 2012 elec­tion. Sim­i­larly to­day, a prop­erly-or­ga­nized cam­paign around a high-pro­file in­di­vid­ual will be enough to bring just about any new team to the Rada.

In ad­di­tion to po­lit­i­cal par­ties al­ready in­cluded in opin­ion polls, it’s likely that as the elec­tions loom, new and re­vived par­ties will ap­pear in the camp of those cur­rently in power. Fa­mil­iar brands like the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and Nar­o­d­niy Front are slowly run­ning out of ma­neu­vers. The mu­tual tol­er­ance that makes sense in the cur­rent set-up of the coali­tion gov­ern­ment and Rada, but it will lose its pur­pose when it comes to re-elec­tion. This will be­come more and more the case the poorer Poroshenko’s chances of be­ing re-elected— even if he man­ages to do so in the end.

For starters, it’s clear at this point that he wants to es­tab­lish his own elec­tion cam­paign with PM Volodymyr Hro­is­man. At this time, only 17.8% of vot­ers are in­clined to or com­pletely trust the premier, while he him­self is in­clined to pop­ulist rhetoric in an at­tempt to grab the “ef­fec­tive man­ager” niche, that is, the one who is only con­cerned with the liv­ing stan­dard of fel­low cit­i­zens. The lat­est polls have given Hro­is­man de­cent startup rat­ings, with 5.6% in the Cen­ter, where he’s al­ready got nearly half of Poroshenko’s rat­ings of 13.5%, and 3.5% in the South, where he’s al­most at a level with him. If he were to de­cide to cam­paign in­de­pen­dently, it could lead to a se­ri­ous re­dis­tri­bu­tion of BPP sup­port­ers. In­deed, a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Hro­is­man and Poroshenko or be­tween their sep­a­rate par­ties in the next elec­tion could end up just like the story of the Yushchenko-Yat­se­niuk split in the run-up to the 2010 elec­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, it’s prob­a­bly a bit early to write off the lead­ers of Nar­o­d­niy Front. Their em­bar­rass­ingly low rat­ing, 1.6% of those who plan to vote, could grow sub­stan­tially if they suc­cess­fully re­brand the party and or­ga­nize a solid elec­tion cam­paign. In­deed, these same polls in­di­cate that Arseniy Yat­se­niuk al­ready has 6.3% trust, Olek­sandr Turchynov has 7.3%, Arsen Avakov has 7.7% and An­driy Paru­biy is tops with 8.5%. This sug­gests that, if their party—or even par­ties—put to­gether an ac­tive cam­paign, they not only have the po­ten­tial to make it into the next Rada, but are also likely to take away votes from other par­ties that looked like they would make it in re­cent polls.

Fi­nally, we have the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­launch of Vi­taliy Kl­itschko’s party, UDAR, given that more than 20.0% of Ukraini­ans con­tinue to trust him. Re­la­tions be­tween UDAR MPs in the Poroshenko Bloc and their col­leagues in the rul­ing coali­tion have been grow­ing more dif­fi­cult lately. More­over, the level of trust, 8.0%, in what is prob­a­bly the most po­lit­i­cally ac­tive Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral in the coun­try’s his­tory, Yuriy Lut­senko, is more than enough for him to also try to set up his own po­lit­i­cal


project for the Rada elec­tions. Es­pe­cially if the rul­ing coali­tion is re­struc­tured or his re­la­tions with other mem­bers of the group turn worse.


In short, it looks like there will very likely be even more dif­fu­sion of voter pref­er­ences to­wards those who are most closely con­nected to the Rada. The tra­di­tional ex­pec­ta­tion that the ma­jor­ity of those who are un­de­cided to­day will be forced to vote for those in the cur­rent 6-8% league could well prove wrong this time around. In­stead, these votes are likely to be split up among ag­gres­sive new can­di­dates in the cam­paign. A high level of com­pet­i­tive­ness and the per­cep­tion of a dan­ger that the en­emy camp might win have played a key role since the be­gin­ning of the 2000s, which was es­pe­cially strong in the cam­paigns be­tween 2006 and 2012. This could also gen­er­ate such a war of every­one for him­self and all against all that a sig­nif­i­cant share of the am­bi­tious par­ties will find them­selves be­low the thresh­old, with only 2%, 3% and even 4% of the vote.

At the same time, even more par­ties could make it into the Rada, than the seven that have been listed in re­cent sur­veys. In ad­di­tion to this, the charg­ing up of cam­paigns and not only a height­ened bat­tle for the un­de­cided vote but a re­dis­tri­bu­tion of the votes of the cur­rent fa­vorites could lead to a sit­u­a­tion where none of those par­ties that seem to have a good chance to­day will ac­tu­ally make it. Af­ter all, their fu­ture op­po­nents haven’t even an­nounced them­selves, let alone started ac­tively cam­paign­ing.

Given the frag­men­ta­tion of the cur­rent Rada, the next elec­tion could even turn out like the long-for­got­ten cam­paign of 1998, when half the deputies were also elected pro­por­tion­ally based on party lists and half in FPTP dis­tricts. The thresh­old for par­ties at the time was 4%—it’s 5% to­day—, while in the FPTP dis­tricts, like to­day, who­ever got the most voted won, even if it wasn’t a ma­jor­ity of the to­tal votes. The re­sult was that eight par­ties got into the Rada and an­other four missed the thresh­old by very lit­tle, hav­ing picked up 2.7-3.7%. The re­sult was that nearly 13.0% of all the bal­lots cast were ef­fec­tively wasted. Al­to­gether, all 225 pro­por­tional seats were split among par­ties that, be­tween them, man­aged to get only 65.8% of the bal­lots cast—and only 46.8% of all el­i­gi­ble vot­ers.

Given that the dis­tor­tion of the peo­ple’s will was even greater in the FPTP dis­tricts thanks to the prin­ci­ple of rel­a­tive ma­jor­ity: in some cases, the win­ners had only 15-25% sup­port in their dis­trict, but that was more than any­one else. And so the 1998 Rada was a re­flec­tion of the po­lit­i­cal pref­er­ences of what was clearly a mi­nor­ity of Ukrainian vot­ers. Once in­tra­mu­ral groups were formed by these MPs, the Rada ended up with as many as 14 sep­a­rate fac­tions and groups at any one time, whose com­po­si­tions were rel­a­tively un­sta­ble. This pro­vided fer­tile ground for ma­nip­u­lat­ing the leg­is­la­ture, both on the part of the ex­ec­u­tive and on the part of the oli­garchic groups that were just emerg­ing in Ukraine then.


How­ever, re­peat­ing the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of the 1998 elec­tion in a hy­per­trophic form to­day would con­sti­tute a far greater threat to the coun­try than it did 20 years ago. At that time, the gov­ern­ment model was a pres­i­den­tial-par­lia­men­tary re­pub­lic, when the power and the op­por­tu­ni­ties for the pres­i­dent and the ex­ec­u­tive branch to work au­tonomously were im­mea­sur­ably larger than they are to­day. The cur­rent pres­i­dent and his pre­de­ces­sor, Vik­tor Yanukovych, mostly in­flu­enced things through their own pow­er­ful fac­tions in the Rada, which had a sub­stan­tial rel­a­tive ma­jor­ity if not an ab­so­lute one. With­out this, the cur­rent ver­sion of the Con­sti­tu­tion will make the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion very weak in a patch­work Rada and any Cab­i­net will be forced to find sup­port in at least 5-7 or even more small fac­tions and groups, a sit­u­a­tion that is likely to be ex­cep­tion­ally frag­ile and short-lived.

This threat­ens to bury Ukraine in a state of per­ma­nent in­sta­bil­ity, sim­i­lar to the Fourth French Re­pub­lic over 1946-1958 or the pres­i­dency of Leonid Kravchuk in Ukraine over 1992-1994. Even France, with its un­chang­ing demo­cratic tra­di­tions and well-es­tab­lished na­tional iden­tity, was brought to the brink of catas­tro­phe and civil war. In Ukraine, it led to the worst eco­nomic col­lapse in the coun­try’s his­tory over 1992-1994.

In Ukraine to­day, how­ever, which is liv­ing with an un­re­solved armed con­flict and in the sights of the Krem­lin’s hy­brid weaponry ded­i­cated to de­stroy the coun­try, frag­men­ta­tion in the form of fed­er­al­iza­tion, and its pos­si­ble fur­ther sub­or­di­na­tion, the dan­ger of events go­ing this way is far worse. Hy­per-frag­men­ta­tion of the Rada and the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment is likely to push Ukraine into chaos that will be be­yond the con­trol of for­mal in­sti­tu­tions.

At the same time, it will of­fer broad op­por­tu­ni­ties for grey eminences to di­rect po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses and ma­nip­u­late both the elected Rada and the ex­ec­u­tive agen­cies that de­pend on it, in Kyiv and at the lo­cal level. To­gether with these back­room play­ers, there will be both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal cen­ters of power. The armed forces and the spe­cial forces, not to men­tion law en­force­ment or the ju­di­ciary, will be­come hard to con­trol. The for­mer are likely to feel aban­doned and to re­ori­ent them­selves on ex­ter­nal cen­ters of power, while the lat­ter are likely to fo­cus on lo­cal in­ter­est groups and cen­ters of power.

What can be done to over­come this state of man­aged chaos is hard to say. It could be the un­con­sti­tu­tional com­ing to power of a strong­man from one cir­cle or an­other—of course, this can­not hap­pen con­sti­tu­tion­ally—, or it could lead to the com­plete col­lapse and feu­dal­iza­tion of the coun­try. In any case, this kind of en­vi­ron­ment could be­come very sus­cep­ti­ble to the lob­by­ing of fed­er­al­iza­tion for Ukraine—whether de facto or de jure—, or to the in­sis­tence that the coun­try is a failed state and its sur­vival, at least in its cur­rent state, will hang in the air.


How much longer? A new po­lit­i­cal model with a strong pres­i­dent put an end to the chaos of the Fourth Re­pub­lic in France. Men­tions of de Gaulle have been pop­u­lar in Ukraine since the 1990s

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